Saturdays, April through September, Priscilla Mep sold honey out of a booth at Pike Place Market in Seattle. MEP APIARIES HONEY: from the Bees of Thomas and Priscilla Mep, P.O. Box 533, Cedar River, WA, 98017. Blackberry. Huckleberry. Fireweed and Wildflower Honey. The 1, 3 and 5 lb. jars were stacked in a neat pyramid atop an old card table: with fresh cut ferns and daisies on either side: and several dozen backup jars in an old wooden LOGGER’S DYNAMITE crate at Priscilla’s feet.
The Meps were retired: Priscilla after 25 years as an elementary school teacher for the Cedar River School District, Thomas after 35 years with the U.S. Forest Service. They had one child: a 42-year old son, a Professor of Entomology at the University of Iowa, recently divorced. No grandchildren. The Meps had raised bees on their five acres of land since the early days of their marriage, but it wasn’t until retirement that Thomas’s hobby morphed into a full-fledged cottage industry.
It was noon, the first week of May, and business was brisk. Priscilla’s booth was at the north end of the market, midway between the two fish markets, with big warehouse windows opening on Elliott Bay a quarter mile below and plenty of foot traffic. Thomas was due to relieve Priscilla at the booth at 12:30, but already Priscilla knew he would be late. Today was the opening of Chinook salmon season. Thomas and a few of his V.F.W. buddies were meeting at a nearby Elliott Bay pier to “throw out a plug or two.” But Priscilla didn’t mind, really. The truth was Thomas was a shy man: painfully so at times. And in their business, as in life, the people side of things had fallen largely upon her.
Priscilla was glad she’d worn her Pendleton wool jacket today. In spite of the clear Seattle sky, and 70-degree heat, a steady stream of frigid air had been blowing down the rows of market stalls all morning. It chilled her long elegant hands, and caused her to bury them deep into her pockets when she wasn’t shuffling jars or exacting change from an old tackle-box she’d converted into a makeshift cash register. And she’d just hoisted the tray of the tackle box to make change for a twenty-dollar bill when she caught a glimpse of them.
Her new Cedar River neighbors.
The young couple from Montana with the adorable three-year-old daughter. They lived across the highway from the Meps—at the end of a long old gravel road—in a tiny two-bedroom rental house fifty yards from the river. They’d moved to Cedar River in September of last year. Priscilla had welcomed them then with a gift of MEP APIARIES HONEY and a bouquet of mixed wildflowers.
Priscilla finished her transaction, then pushed her steel-rimmed spectacles off the bridge of her nose. How strange seeing her new neighbors here of all places—35 miles from Cedar River! They’d just made a purchase from the Italian fish market. The father was making his little girl laugh pretending the butcher-wrapped package he was carrying was a live fish biting at her knees. Mom was in the lead, the little girl atop her Daddy’s shoulders, getting back at him by mussing with his hair. Priscilla had watched them from her kitchen window walking the river road just so: the little girl commanding her father forward like a child atop an elephant. Priscilla had visited just that once. She’d meant to visit again, but had been sidetracked by so many things that winter, including her son’s devastating divorce.
Her neighbors were past the Korean fruit and vegetable stands now. She thought of calling out to them by name, but then realized she could not recall their names! Smiling in spite of this, Priscilla waved one of her thin arms over her head to gain their attention. Then, with a start, Priscilla saw—or knew, somehow—that they had already spotted her. Yes. It was plain as day. Not by how they were looking at her, but how they were not looking at her: repositioning themselves in the crowd so their backs were turned towards Priscilla. The little girl’s beautiful brown eyes had met Priscilla’s own beautiful brown eyes for a brief moment—only to look away as Mom and Dad veered further and further away from Priscilla’s booth.
Priscilla was stunned. Unconsciously, she lowered her arm and rested it upon her chest. She watched her neighbors feign interest in a Tie-Dye clothing boutique across from her own stall. When an appropriate amount of time had elapsed, the young parents shuffled their way back into the mainstream of the Pike Market throng, heads lowered, a flush of embarrassment on their faces.
All the while, the bright-eyed child had smiled and jabbered away—oblivious to it all.